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In the last few decades, companion animals have traded backyard Dogloos for monogrammed memory foam beds. They have moved up in the world, becoming an integral part of the identity, lifestyle, and values of most modern American families.
Organizations like the Human Animal Bond Research Institute compile and fund studies on the multifaceted health benefits of having animals in our lives. Generational trends and advanced medical care result in more pets living longer. Pet owners spent $30 million dollars on veterinary care in 2019, more than double what they spent in 2010—which, by the way, was a bang-up year. What’s more, the 2019 pet industry saw an additional $65 billion dollars shunted to other pet products like food, toys, OTC medications, grooming, boarding, and insurance.
Indeed, pets have captured the hearts and minds of America, the pet-parent market is growing by leaps and bounds, and veterinary clinics must meet growing client expectations to remain in the center of the pet health equation. But the veterinary model of practice, by and large, still operates on an 8-5 schedule. Today’s pet parents want instant access to excellent care. When clients worry about their pet’s condition after hours, Dr. Google often gets called up to work the swing and graveyard shifts in our stead. Sure, Dr. G provides instant access. But excellent care? Not so much.
How can we take back our rightful place as health care experts whenever our patients need it, while maintaining our sanity? The answer is veterinary teletriage.
What Is Veterinary Teletriage?
Teletriage is communication by technological means with a licensed veterinary professional to determine if a pet’s condition is emergent or can wait for an appointment the following business day. Because a Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship has not been established by this means, the triager cannot diagnose, treat, or prescribe medication, but can list rule-outs to convey urgency and guide clients when they feel most helpless.
How Is Teletriage Offered?
· Client-Facing Platforms
Some client-facing triage providers market direct to consumer through an online presence. Clients find and pay for triage advice independent of their regular veterinarian. These providers have databases and protocols in place to efficiently make triage determinations, but do not have access to a specific clinic’s on-call or emergency hospital referral information.
Other client-facing platforms partner with veterinary practices but maintain their own branding. Some provide a digital portal for telemedicine consults at times set by the clinic DVM. This would be considered a hybrid of client- and practice-facing service.
· Practice-Facing Platforms
Practice-facing triage providers are contracted by the veterinary practice. With GuardianVets, phones are answered using the practice’s name, not the triage company’s name. Such personalization integrates the triage support with the veterinary practice’s branding to strengthen the client-practice bond.
If the pet’s condition is emergent, the triager either contacts the on-call doctor or refers the pet to the practice’s preferred emergency clinic. In cases of toxicity, a practice may also opt to have the client referred to a poison control hotline to further elucidate the triage.
If the pet’s condition is non-emergent, a message detailing the owner’s concerns is sent to the veterinary practice, along with a request for a next-day appointment. Some triage platforms can also integrate with the hospital’s scheduling software, so appointments can be made directly by the triager. Even better, some platforms simultaneously provide telemedicine support so the on-call veterinarian can perform a virtual visit to further assess gray-area presentations at night. (Consult your veterinary practice act to determine if your state board allows this.)
In each case, the client is directed back to the veterinary practice for care, instead of to Dr. Google or the latest pet owner forum, thus capturing patient care revenue.
Who Offers Teletriage Service?
The AVMA has compiled a list of Veterinary Connected Care Companies for your review. The defining characteristic of teleadvice is that it is administered by licensed veterinary professionals (DVMs and/or CVTs). It is NOT an answering service; it is a subset of telehealth.
Note: The rest of this article focuses on practice-facing platforms.
When Is Veterinary Teletriage Offered?
Veterinary practices offer triage coverage for their clients when the clinic is closed (after hours on weeknights, weekends, and national holidays). Some service providers also provide daytime triage support to handle call overflow and cover phones during staff meetings. Investigate the offerings of various service providers to make sure you choose one that can grow with you if you decide to leverage it in this way.
Why Offer Veterinary Teletriage?
By offering teletriage, you will:
· Enhance client retention by never letting pet parents feel abandoned in the middle of the night.
· Improve access to high quality care and recommendations.
· Increase practice revenue by directing after-hours non-emergent conditions back to the clinic through timely appointments.
· Show respect for your clients’ money and time by guiding them to emergency after-hours care only when necessary.
· Strengthen the veterinarian’s position as the expert in animal health by establishing yourself as the first place clients can look for help, no matter the hour.
· Sleep through non-emergent calls, for the on-call sufferers out there.
Veterinary teletriage can improve the health of your practice, your patients, your client relationships, and your own wellbeing. At the risk of mixing metaphors, the ball is in your court. It is up to you if you want to hit it out of the park.